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Poetry for the Native American Flute

Playing Native American flute behind a poetry reading is a particularly good combination. Here are some poems and readings that I love to work with in these situations.

Ideally, the poetry is read in the cadence of call-and-response with spacing to allow for intervening flute music. A few readings have been very slightly modified to fit the situation.

See also the next page (click the Next Page button) for poems by Rumi.

Make Me a Wave

Make me a wave
Upon it I'll ride
Show me direction
We'll roll like the tide

Make me a groove
And with it I'll play
Rhythm and harmony
One way to pray

-- Brian Jeffries, jfleco@aol.com, contributed November 9, 2013 at the Native Rhythms festival.

Anasazi Spirits — A Tribute to Coyote Oldman

The ancient spirits gathered as the familiar echoing sounds
of their canyon home drifted into the night sky~

They had waited~
Those sounds had stayed silent for so long~

The ancient spirits circled themselves in prayer,
thanking Coyote Oldman~
From his sincere, humble love and desire,
a joy was brought back to them~

They had prayers of concern,
that in the hands of those that carried this ancient song stick,
would be hearts of respect and humbleness~
Prayers that the new journey of their ancient voices
be walked with words of remembrance and songs of honor~

A gift given to the new earthly ones,
so that their ancient voices could once again be heard
among the others~

-- Nakakakena (Boe Harris), July 2008

Mother Earth’s Lesson

I walk upon this land I call my home~

The only human sound I hear is the crackling
of the parched desert floor beneath my feet~

I stop to listen to the lessons the elders told me I’d hear,
if I walked gently on Earth Mother~


I placed each foot step gently,
continued my journey and stopped once again to listen~

in desperation of the lessons~

And as hope began to fade,
like the sun setting in the distance,
I began to pray,
“O Creator of all things, forgive my lack of humbleness.
I come with heart desires to know the journey that
you have for me and the lessons my elders have set before me.
Help me to listen, help me to hear.”

In the fluttering of a bird’s wings as it flew close to my head,
I heard a sweet voice whisper to me~


-- Nakakakena (Boe Harris), 2009

Song for Guy Davenport

Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.

Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
Only music keeps us here,

each by all the others held.
In the hold of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.

And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone

into the darker circles of return.

-- Wendell Berry, from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry ([Berry 1999]), and also Earth Prayers from Around the World by Elizabeth Roberts ([Roberts-E 1991], page 286).


  En nuestras almas todo
por misteriosa mano se gobierna.
Incomprehensibles, mudas,
nada sabemos de las almas nuestras.

  Las más hondas palabras
del sabio nos enseñan,
lo que el silbar del viento cuando sopla,
o el sonar de las aguas cuando ruedan.

  In our souls everything
moves guided by a mysterious hand.
Incomprehensible, unspeaking,
we know nothing of our own souls.

  The deepest words
of the wise men teach us
the same as the whistle of the wind when it blows
or the sound of the water when it is flowing.

-- Antonio Machado (1875-1939), Spanish poet, translated by Robert Bly, from Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado ([Machado 1983]). Note that I have changed the third and fourth lines of Robert Bly's English translation from the original translation of “We know nothing of our own souls that are understandable, and say nothing.”

The Invitation

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become
shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the
tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful,
to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself;
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul;
if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it's not pretty,
every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

 -- Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from the 1999 book The Invitation ([Dreamer 1999]).

The Song of the Stars

We are the stars which sing,
We sing with our light;

We are the birds of fire,
We fly over the sky.

Our light is a voice;

We make a road for spirits,
For the spirits to pass over.

Among us are three hunters
Who chase a bear;

There never was a time
When they were not hunting.

We look down on the mountains.

This is the Song of the Stars.

-- Algonquin Poem, contributed by John DeBoer

Playing Flute to the Geese

I close my eyes,
hear my song,
feel it's unsung words
in the easy rhythm
of my breathing,
of fingers rise

When at last
I open them,
I see invisible geese –
dark birds against
        dark hay bales under
        dark, autumn sky.

I can feel them;
they are still here.

-- Carl Bludts, from Feathered Pipe Memories ([Bludts 2000]).

We are the Stars

We are the stars that sing.
We sing with our light.
We are the birds of fire.
We fly across the heaven.
Our light is a star.

-- Passamaquoddy tribal prayer, from Chants and Prayers by Stan Padilla ([Padilla 1996]).

The Star of Love

Music, be thy sails unfurled,
Bear me to thy better world;
O'er a cold and weltering sea,
Blow thy breezes warm and free;

Take me to that far-off shore,
Where lovers meet to part no more;
There doubt, and fear and sin are o'er,
That star of love shall set no more.

-- Margaret Fuller, from Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 ([Fuller 1843]), excerpt from her poem, page 244. Margaret Fuller describes the Winnebago courting flute earlier in this publication.

It Was the Wind

It was the wind that gave them life.
It was the wind that comes out of our mouths now that gives us life.
When this ceases to blow, we die.
In the skin at the tips of our fingers we see the trail of the wind;
It shows us where the wind blew when our ancestors were created.

-- Anonymous Navajo poem, from [Matthews 1897], page 69.

Advice from a Tree

Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter

Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light

Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots

Enjoy the view!

-- Ilan Shamir, from Advice from a Tree: Guided Journal, published by Your True Nature, ([Shamir 1999]).

The Subject Tonight Is Love — In a Tree House

Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī

Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn
Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī Larger image

Will someday split you open
Even if your life is now a cage.

For the Divine seed, the crown of destiny
Is hidden and sown on ancient soil, a fertile plain
You hold the title to.

Love will surely bust you wide open
Into an unfettered, blooming new galaxy,

Even if your mind is now
A spoiled mule.
A life-giving radiance will come,
The Friend's gratuity will come.

O look again within yourself,
For you were once the elegant host
To all the marvels of creation.

From a sacred place in your body
A bow rises each night
And shoots your soul into God.

Behold the Beautiful Drunk Singing One
From the lunar vantage point of love.

He is conducting the affairs
Of the whole universe while throwing wild parties
In a treehouse—on a limb
In your heart.

-- Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, from The Subject Tonight is Love, ([Hafiz 2003]).

The Song Of Hiawatha

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

At the door on summer evenings
Sat the little Hiawatha;
Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,
Heard the lapping of the waters,
Sounds of music, words of wonder;
"Minne-wawa!" said the Pine-trees,
"Mudway-aushka!" said the water.
In the Islands of the Blessed,
Most beloved by Hiawatha
Was the gentle Chibiabos,

He the best of all musicians,
He the sweetest of all singers.
Beautiful and childlike was he,
Brave as man is, soft as woman,
Pliant as a wand of willow,
Stately as a deer with antlers.

When he sang, the village listened;
All the warriors gathered round him,
All the women came to hear him;
Now he stirred their souls to passion,
Now he melted them to pity.

From the hollow reeds he fashioned
Flutes so musical and mellow,
That the brook, the Sebowisha,
Ceased to murmur in the woodland,
That the wood-birds ceased from singing,
And the squirrel, Adjidaumo,
Ceased his chatter in the oak-tree,
And the rabbit, the Wabasso,
Sat upright to look and listen.

All the many sounds of nature
Borrowed sweetness from his singing;
All the hearts of men were softened
By the pathos of his music;
For he sang of peace and freedom,
Sang of beauty, love, and longing;
Sang of death, and life undying
In the Islands of the Blessed,
In the kingdom of Ponemah,
In the land of the Hereafter.

-- Henry W. Longfellow, excerpts from sections 3 and 4 from The Song of Hiawatha ([Longfellow 1855]), in Kalevala meter.


There is no controlling life.
Try controlling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild with the weak; fear,
fantasies and success.
When the loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed in your new eyes.

-- Danna Faulds, from Poems from the Heart of Yoga ([Faulds 1997]).

Stream Music

Stream music is
downhill music
with such fluency
that I stop my
walk to listen
on the bridge.

Water races over
rocks, melody
changing with
each moment.

Nature weaves
itself into my
awareness until
I too am humming,
my voice and a
nearby crow’s
mingling so easily.
There seems to be
no fixed boundaries
here in the woods,
thrumming with
the earth’s slow

-- Danna Faulds, from Limitless - New Poems and other Writings ([Faulds 2009]).

The Indian Flute-Song

I do not blame the little birds
  For flying down so near;
I do not blame the little brook
  For creeping close to hear;
The tiny specks of sunshine too
  that flutter from the sky,
And drop in spots of golden light
Down through the leaves so green and bright,
  And on the soft grass lie;
They come in answer to a voice
  That seems a brother's call:—
The flute-song that my father plays,
  The sweetest song of all;
It brings the summer breezes back
  Just as they thought to creep
To sunny lands so far away,
Where they could take a holiday,
  And, drowsy, drop to sleep.

It sets the little aspen-leaves
  To dancing on the tree;
And starts my heart to singing
  To the sweetest melody.
And even in my dreams at night
  I hear the flute-song call,
So sweet and drowsy, low and clear,
It brings the woodland voices near,
  And seems to sing them all.

-- Grace Purdie Moon, from [Moon-GP 1917].


Love is …
    the glue that holds us together
    unfettered and free, unconditional and open
    a heart's purest expression that can be shared
    the ultimate vulnerability and knows no bounds
    eternal beyond the physical and intellectual awareness
    the essence of who we are and what we are meant to be
    freely given to be embraced, nurtured in its infancy and relished in its maturity
    a beacon lighting the way to wholeness and completion of spirit
    the undercarriage of faith and hope

Love …
    seals the holes and cracks of life and living
    blossoms in all seasons
    inflates and grows with no limitations
    enables great feats of courage, strength, endurance
    heals all wounds
    enables us to forget and put away the past
    answers the questions that seem to have no answers
    enables us to experience the authentic essence of soul
    nestled inside a fragile physical body

Love – God's greatest gift enabling forgiveness, compassion, empathy and reaching out beyond yourself

Love, so simple, so complex, so easy, yet so hard. It requires us to let go and accept who “we” all are without reservation

Love is the essence that, when we die, releases into the universe and settles like fairy dust on those we shared it with. It stays working its magic forever.

Love is our final companion on our journey home. Love, pure unadulterated love.

Love just “IS.” It is the essence of “I AM.”

-- Patricia B. Smith, Ph.D., written February 4, 2007, contributed at Flute Haven 2010.


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